Growing up in a small town in the Southern US, I would spend all day outdoors. Our house was next to hundreds of acres of corn and, beyond that, dense forests. My parents would give me a machete and tell me to be home by dinner. Sometimes I would be gone for 8, 10, even 12 hours.
These years of complete nature immersion & autonomy helped my development more than anything I ever learned in school.
This longing to return to nature led me to major in Anthropology at University. Believing tribal cultures held the answer to many of our problems (ecocide, sexism, violence, etc.) I was fascinated with cross-cultural child-rearing practices. I discovered that, despite all the diversity in human culture, there was one constant: the closer to Nature a group, the healthier it was.
Two years later my partner and I found ourselves in a tipi with three children in the middle of 300 acres in the Appalachia mountains. No electricity, no running water. A 10 minute hike to our car, 20 minutes to the nearest phone, and one hour from the closest town. These were the most beautiful memories of my life. I watched my children explore a creek, cook with fire, catch snakes, wildcraft toys, haul water, track animals, forage snacks, collect insects, climb trees, play in the dirt….
Their daily life was a direct, unmediated, living relationship with Wilderness. They were fully immersed in the Wild and I felt every child has a right to this experience. I started offering free kids classes at the local art guild in town.
After learning a permaculture course was being offered in a nearby city, I contacted the lead instructor inquiring about options for parents: was there any child care? a kids space? scholarships? As the father of a newborn I was shocked to hear that children were not welcome. I was informed that Mollison’s third ethic was “Set Limits to Population.” Providing space for kids would “send the wrong message” by encouraging overpopulation. I was devastated.
After a few weeks of depression, I realized I should start seeing solutions – I would offer free child care for single mothers, low-income parents, and others in the community that needed help. Child care at most events consisted of generic coloring pages and typical activities. I wanted to create games and activities that taught actual permaculture principles and concepts. This way children could learn permaculture simultaneously as their parents did (only it would be way more fun than lectures!)
During this time I came across an article titled ‘Permaculture for Children’ by Robina McCurdy (Permaculture Activist magazine, Vol.3, #1 Feb. 87). I was so inspired by her work I immediately wrote to Robina hoping to establish a branch of her Children’s Permaculture Foundation in the US. Sadly, I discovered it had folded in 1994 as Robina focused more on her Intentional Community, the Tui Land Trust.
But she encouraged me to go out and start a new organization. “The time is always ripe,” Robina said, “for kids to get involved with permaculture!” And so in 2005 the Children’s Permaculture Guild was born.
Shortly afterward our family moved to the Pacific Northwest (US) so I could attend a Waldorf Teacher Training College. I continued teaching permaculture to kids for free. I taught at public parks, ecovillages, anarchist free schools, parking lots… anywhere I could.
After years of contemplating, I decided to teach in the public school system. That is where I could reach the largest number of individuals (and those who need nature-based education the most!). I enrolled in graduate school to receive my teacher certification. While working on my Master’s in Education I taught in various public schools throughout Oregon. In every class I connected the subject matter to permaculture. During this time, I helped establish school gardens, learned how to work within the system, and taught the first permaculture course in a US public elementary school.
After impressing as a summer camp teacher at a children’s museum, I was offered a job as the Director of Education. In addition to teaching every day, this allows me to have more control over my curriculum, greater freedom from standards, and the opportunity to design exhibits.
Most importantly I am able to hang out with my homeschooling daughter all day long! At the museum I continue to taeach permaculture classes three days a week, during seasonal camps, and on no-school days. My position provides me with the opportunity to introduce permaculture to over 50,000 children a year.
Over the past decade the Children’s Permaculture Guild has taught at community centers, Waldorf schools, public libraries, ecovillages, city parks, infoshops, neighborhood events, museums, primitive skills gatherings, public schools, churches, private classes, Montessori schools, art centers, free schools, conferences, environmental education centers, charter schools, nonprofits, gatherings, festivals, and various special events.
I design every lesson, activity, and class to emphasize hands-on learning, nature awareness, true sustainability, and an element far too often overlooked: child empowerment. After hearing over and over from parents that they wished they lived closer in order to attend, we decided to take all of the games and activities we developed and combine them with our experience, in order to create an online class so families all over the globe can participate. We are proud to present the world’s first Children’s Permaculture Design Course!
Our online course follows the World Standard PDC Outline developed by Permaculture Visions International and approved by Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Institute. Members of the course receive four lesson plans emailed to them every month. Each lesson plan teaches permaculture concepts using games, art projects, hands-on activities, and nature observation.
Our curriculum is designed to be implemented in whatever manner best fits the individual child’s needs. Using these lesson plans adults may choose to collaborate (Reggio), guide (Montessori), or direct (Waldorf/Steiner) the learning process. The curriculum can also be used to supplement traditional schooling (private or public), enhance family-centered education (homeschool), or inspire child-directed learning (unschooling). Since emphasis is placed on the child exploring the flora and fauna of their own bioregion the course is accessible to all: from kids living in large cities to those in the rural countryside, from New Zealand to Slovenia, from Kenya to Uruguay – children from all walks of life can take our Children’s PDC. After completion of the course, students will receive their very own PDC certificate from the Children’s Permaculture Guild.
For more information on the Children’s Permaculture Guild please visit:
One mother mentioned she would love to meet the other parents in the online group and suggested a gathering at the end of the year. While speaking with other environmental educators we remarked about how inspiring the IPCUK was (which was happening during our discussions). We decided to open the event to all and host a Children’s Permaculture Convergence. At last we have a permaculture gathering where youth are not treated as an afterthought or a logistical issue. Kids will be the central focus and, for once, not be ushered to the margins. We plan to host the first event next year in Oregon, USA and hope to have the 2017 convergence in Europe (especially Slovenia where my family lives and where I have a deep ecological connection).
To connect or help with coordinating the Kids IPC visit:
I am thrilled to learn about the Children in Permaculture Group of the European Permaculture Teachers Partnership. I wish you all the best and look forward to following your endeavors.
Founder, Children’s Permaculture Guild (2005-present)
Editor, Kurent: A Journal of Permaculture for Children, Parents and Educators (2012-2014)